In a day and age where football has switched to a more versatile, athletic, finesse game, the Big Ten has been the last conference to make the switch. The trend setters in the new game is the SEC first and foremost. Winning the last three national titles will do that. The conference features teams that are all fast, athletic, and know how to cover ground. After another poor showing in bowl games last season, it seemed that the coaches from one of the oldest conferences in the country, decided to make the switch too. The Big Ten has been known for being tough, slow paced, low scoring and defensive oriented teams along with having players that fit the mold. Some of that old adage remains but the SEC way of life is starting to run deep in a conference where it’s best team, Ohio State, has lost their last three bowl games, two were title games and the other was the Fiesta Bowl last season. Once the Big Ten transitions into a fast paced, athletic conference, the quality of football will increase for a conference looked down upon recently.
With Iowa winning it’s only bowl game last season, the Big Ten must improve. These steps started a few years ago with Ohio State’s recruiting classes. 2007 was the first year the Buckeyes really went down south to pick up talent for the skill positions. The state the Buckeyes built a pipeline in was Florida. For some reason, it seems Florida produces a different type of athlete. These guys seem to be bigger, faster, stronger and hungrier for football. The teams that have the most players from Florida are the teams that have had the most success lately is the Florida Gators, LSU Tigers, Georgia Bulldogs, and the upstart USF Bulls. Ohio State followed the trend with the signing of Brian Rolle and James Scott from the Sunshine State along with the addition of Cameron Heyward from Georgia. This was just the beginning of the revolution. In 2008, Jim Tressel signed four players from Florida including MLB Etienne Sabino, CB’s Travis Howard and Orhian Johnson and C Mike Brewster, who started the majority of the season last year as a true freshman. Tressel also plucked DE Keith Wells out of Southern Georgia, who is a big end at 6′5″, that can run and really get after the quarterback. The Class of 2009 only added to the talent from Florida with top RB Jamaal Berry commiting to Ohio State along with RB Carlos Hyde and WR Duron Carter. The Buckeyes have picked up several big time prospects from a state loaded with talent, but here is the good thing, Ohio State isn’t the only team to do so.
When Rich Rodriguez took over at Michigan, he brought with him a new scheme that demanded athletes that can run. In 2008, his first season, Rodriguez was left with the slower paced athletes of Lloyd Carr’s scheme and the returnees had trouble adapting to the new system which ultimately lead to their 3-9 record. With his first full recruiting season under his belt, Rodriguez made a big impact. Michigan’s class of 2009 brought in eight players from Florida including dual threat QB Denard Robinson, who is expected to battle Tate Forcier for the starting spot. The intriguing part about Robinson is that he was the 200 meter state track champion his senior year in high school. Aside from Robinson, Rodriguez brought in S Adrian Witty, a teammate of Robinson’s from Deerfield Beach high in Fort Lauderdale. Along with Witty, the Wolverines signed S Vlad Emilian, K Brendan Gibbons, LB Brandin Hawthorne, RB Vincent Smith, S Mike Jones, and WR Jeremy Gallon. All of these players have 40 times, besides Gibbons, in the 4.5 range, which should only add to the success that Michigan will have in the future. If the trend of bringing in the Florida talent can work for Rodriguez, his system should work in the Big Ten considering he has the pieces to the puzzle.
After a mediocre season, at least for Camp Randall’s standards, Brett Beilema decided to start a switch to the south. After a 45-13 loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl, Bobby Bowden’s team looked very much more athletic than the Wisconsin squad and that led to the beating the Badgers took. During this offseason, Beilema signed three players from Florida including S Dezman Southward and LB Conor O’Neal, both from Fort Lauderdale’s St. Thomas Aquinas High School, the same high school that Ohio State pulled Duron Carter from. The Badgers lastly signed DE David Gilbert from Oakland Park, Florida. Gilbert is a big kid that runs his 40 in the 4.7 range, not spectacular but better than the Badgers have had in recent years. Beilema also seems to have jumped on the bandwagon and the results will be evident in the future.
In Tim Brewster’s second year of his campaign in Minnesota, the Golden Golphers featured a spread scheme that demanded athletes. Brewster also traveled down to Florida to pick up some pieces. Minnesota signed four players from Florida including DT Eric Jacques, CB Michael Carter, S Brent Singleton, and WR Victor Keise. Jacques, the most prized of all the Florida natives, is a big tackle that excels in run defense but is great in the pass rush. His prescense should help a Minnesota defense that was exposed quite a few times last season. Carter, Singleton, and Keise are all prime-time athletes than can really run. Carter and Singleton both run 40’s in the 4.5 range and Singleton runs very well for his size, standing at 6′0″, 195 lbs. Keise is a smaller receiver, standing at 5′9″ 170 lbs, but is a speedster that needs to work on his route running skills. It’s very clear that Brewster wants to improve upon the 7-6 season they had a year ago, a steady increase from the dismal 1-11 in 2007. With more athletes, Minnesota should only get better.
Several years from coaching in the Sunshine State for the Florida Gators, Ron Zook is building a pipeline of his own in Florida. After a sub-par follow up season from a Rose Bowl berth, Illinois also turned to Florida to accomodate the athleticism of Juice Williams. The Fighting Illini signed five players from the state including LB Eric Watts, DT Akeem Spence, TE Justin Lattimore, LB Darryl Lee, and OT Andrew Carter. The LB’s Zook signed are the average size of the “Coverage LB,” that has been molded, about 6′0″, 210+ lbs and runs a 40 between 4.5-4.7. If these two can play up to their potential, Illinois should have a very athletic defense in the future.
The biggest buyer of the Florida athlete was the Purdue Boilermakers. Out of the 20 players signed for the recruiting class of 2009, 14 were from Florida. The headliners out of the pack were DT Brandon Taylor, from Miami’s Dr. Krop High School, alums of the school include LB Etienne Sabino and CB Travis Howard from Ohio State who signed last season. Along with Taylor, Purdue signed RB Al-Terek McBurse and LB Antwan Higgs from Central Florida. Aside from these three, the Boilermakers plucked DE Kevin Pamphile from Miami, CB Antavian Edison from Fort Myers, WR Eric Williams from Bradenton, DT Xavier Melton from Lakeland, WR Xavier Reese from Oakland Park, CB Chris Quinn also from Miami, WR Gary Bush, who too is from Miami, and WR Josh Johnson from Dade City. For first year coach Danny Hope has real hope for the future that his signees from South Florida, mainly Dade County, a county that has produced hundreds of players all across the country, can work together in his spread system to also become more athletic and increase competitiveness in the Big Ten. With 14 players from the state, Purdue has become a more versatile team overnight and the effects should be evident in the near future.
With nine of the Big Ten’s 11 teams signing at least one player from Florida, it really shows that the conference has received the memo and locked it in the inbox for future reference. The game of football has changed tremendously in the past few years and the Big Ten is the last of the major BCS conferences to adapt. With the signing of over 50 players in the past few years from Florida, it is evident that the conference is changing and will be exciting to see just how much the teams have improved. For the SEC way of football has become a main stay for the NCAA, the Big Ten is committed to being one of it’s suitors.